Watching, Seeing, Looking by Kevin Sharp

Is there some quality or condition that distinguishes watching from seeing and seeing from looking? As someone who works in the visual arts, these words should be and are important to me. I looked up (there it is) the root form of the verbs on Dictionary.com, and wrote down the relevant parts of their definitions.   

Watch: to keep under attentive view or observation, as in order to see or learn something; view attentively or with interest; to contemplate or regard mentally; to look or wait attentively and expectantly for.      

See: to perceive with the eyes; look at; to view; visit or attend as a spectator; to have the power of sight.   

Look: to give someone a look; to have an appearance appropriate to or befitting something; to appear to be; to turn one’s eyes toward something or in some direction in order to see; to glance or gaze in a manner specified; to use one’s sight or vision in seeking, searching, examining, watching, etc.   

I really didn’t find what I was looking for (there it is, again), or not exactly. I guess in my mind, there is a kind of hierarchy of purpose among these three verbs, even if their dictionary definitions don’t bear out that assumption.   

For me, watching is something I do before the television or at my computer. I am generally pretty passive when I watch, I’m relatively undisciplined, I’m nearly always bringing other senses into play (like my ability to hear), and my filtering of visual data is practically non-existence. Just about anything can roll before my eyes when I’m simply watching.   

When I’m seeing, I’m a bit more alert and focused, and trying to understand something, I suppose. I may still be at my computer, but seeing is more intentional for me than watching. I’m choosing the object of my gaze rather than allowing television programmers or the makers of cat videos to select it for me.   

I pretty much reserve looking for works of art, paintings mostly, but sculpture, prints, drawings, and photographs, too. It is not that I don’t enjoy performance art, video, and other new media. I do, but I really only watch them, because generally you have to hear them too. Among a thousand other things, I love the silence of paintings, and the way they reward you if you look carefully enough. 

Posted by Chantal Drake at 2:44 PM
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